By Sameera Deol | Small Is Big

Ever dreamt of staying in a plush countryside hotel that is not a regular hotel but a handcrafted personal experience? Want a luxurious weekend – staying in a millionnaire’s home with all the works? Desiring a quick getaway not far from your city yet far removed from the worries of city life? Well, if you said YES to any (or all) of the above, SaffronStays might be what you are looking for!

Creating bonds, strengthening ties between families and friends and building refreshing spaces in the countryside is SaffronStays – a mecca for the aspirational, upwardly mobile traveler who values privacy and luxury.

During a family trip to Europe, husband-wife duo Devendra and Tejas Parulekar experienced the joy, warmth and privacy offered by a homestay leading them to dream of a ‘made in India’ platform that would offer the comforts of home along with a luxurious experience – tucked away from the fast paced metro city life but easily accessible as a weekend getaway. Devendra, a Partner in EY India and Practice Leader of Cyber security and Tejas, a chartered accountant and corporate banker with ICICI Bank were both bitten by the entrepreneurial bug!

JPEG021-2
Tejas and Devendra Parulekar, Founders, SaffronStays. Pic Courtesy: SaffronStays

Aggegator to experience creator

What started out as an aggregator pivoted into a whole new direction in 2015 when the owner of SaffronStays Parsi Manor, Matheran approach the couple to revamp and manage their home. Getting the right technology and trying to ensure high quality standards at every location were anyway proving to be challenging when SaffronStays was exploring the aggregator model. This opportunity led them to believe that they could indeed become true value creators.

Saffron Stays – Where Families Bond, has been put together to connect families in this disconnected digital world. In today’s highly e-connected yet disconnected world, we aim to connect and rebuild relationships that really matter – in the real world. Our homes bring with them a unique personal touch, warm comfort, home-cooked food and unusual stories that leave guests with enriching memories for a lifetime”, says Tejas.

 “SaffronStays now curates boutique homes and partners exclusively to manage the hospitality operations, branding, marketing and reservations thereby helping home owners monetise their otherwise dead assets,” says Devendra.

Unlearning and learning

In 3 years, Saffron Stays has acquired over 50 exclusive boutique homes in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. But this feat wasn’t easy. The Parulekars are both rank outsiders to the hospitality industry and had a lot of unlearning to do in their entrepreneurial journey. Perhaps it was this outsider perspective that helped them spot a gap – there was an increasing need from home owners who had beautiful holiday homes but no time, skills or bandwidth to maintain these on a regular basis. They were money rich, time poor. At the same time, urban Indians were looking for breathtaking and exclusive travel experiences over weekends. This observation led SaffronStays to create a business model where they could exercise control over the quality of experiences offered and turn dead assets of home ownners into business.

Devendra says, “An aspirational, upwardly-mobile traveller today considers a Vacation Rental as a preferred option over traditional Hotels, considering the unique Staycation experience alongside the privacy and exclusivity offered by a heritage or a luxe bungalow, in a stunning countryside estate. SaffronStays wishes to be the foremost managed vacation rentals company for the discerning Indian. We will follow the Indian traveler by offering hand-crafted Indian hospitality across the world in such gorgeous homes.”

The 5-Star digital detox experience!

Every SaffronStays property offers a 5 star experience to all its guests. Each house is equipped with a caretaker, cook and housekeeping staff. The staff undergoes an in depth training and is imparted with the required skills in a special training centre in Panvel. Unlike hotels with their standardized menus and cuisines, SaffronStays offers the comfort of local, home cooked meals personalized to the taste of every group. Each meal is specially curated with organic vegetables, sourced from the home garden. To ensure consistency, each geographical sector is orchestrated by an Operations Executive who ensures that every home in his/her area is always serviced.

“As a brand, we encourage our guests to bond within themselves, rather than resorting to electronic distractions. For this reason, contrary to popular hospitality norms, a large number of SaffronStays homes are intentionally not furnished with Televisions and WiFi. Instead, the various common spaces are stocked with board games, indoor games, swimming pools and conversation starters,” says Tejas.

It’s not Airbnb

Each prospective home of the Leisure Home Network undergoes stringent checks – in fact 200 of them! Unlike online portals, SaffronStays manages the hospitality operations, branding and marketing of all the homes that join the network. Unlike Airbnb which follows a D-I-Y (Do It Yourself) model, SaffronStays follows DIFM (Do It For Me), customized for the Indian traveler. It has a dedicated team that is in touch with the guests right from the time of check in, till the very end, ensuring an extremely personalized experience for each group.

Devendra says, “Every Home goes through a rigorous 200 point checklist that involves upgrades to every aspect from tasteful interiors to landscaping, from staffing and their training to technology deployment, to deployment of our processes and methods. Unlike other online portals that only manage reservations of spaces, we manage the hospitality operations, branding and marketing of all the homes that join our network. We pride ourselves in training and recruiting only local staff and specialising in local food. All in all, a hand-crafted Indian hospitality experience.”

SaffronStays has largely grown by word of mouth over the last 3 years but now it has started leveraging social media as well. Being in a business that allows wonderful visual depictions, the company lures social media users with breathtaking pictures of its various offerings and is able to convert 20% of its leads into actual stays.

Pre-Series A funding

While SaffronStays started out as a bootstrapped venture, earlier this year it secured an undisclosed sum of Pre-Series A investment from Sixth Sense Ventures. Mentored by angel investor Sanjay Mehta, SaffronStays has successfully used its initial capital of INR 1 Crore to become unit level cash positive since August 2016. Sixth Sense holds a minority stake in the company and its Founder & CE, Nikhil Vora is on the board of Saffron Stays. Having backed diverse companies like Ethos watches, Weddingz.in, Smaaash and Veeba Food Services, Sixth Sense Ventures brings with it experience in helping Founders expand their footprints, strengthen operations and improve the technology backbone.

With Sixth Sense by their side, Devendra says, “We are actively accelerating our growth, hiring top talent, and expanding our inventory while offering a vastly improved and curated experience. We are exploring innovative and engaging business models that will interest home owners and guests alike.”

The road ahead for SaffronStays

Saffron Stays is now on-boarding 5-7 homes every month and aims to add 200 homes to its kitty in the next 2 years. India’s travel market is projected to grow at a rate of 11-11.5% and be worth $48 Billion by 2020 and as the Indian traveler becomes far more discerning and demanding, unique experiences like those offered by SaffronStays will only see increased demand.

“From the Persian era, to modern-day, Saffron is considered as a gift of the rich and famous. Saffron is also the only spice that woos three senses out of five; saffron entices with its distinct smell, colour and taste. SaffronStays, too endeavours to allure its patrons with exclusive homes, privacy and the luxury of certainty,” says Tejas.